21 March 2011

18. The Abstinence Teacher

The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perrotta

I liked this book very much. It was a very interesting story with some outstanding interaction between the characters. I am also surprised that I liked it considering it was full of stereotypes and flagrant bias.

This is a story about a high school health teacher (includes sex education) and her interactions with members of an evangelical Christian church. Imagine the stereotypical liberated woman facing off against the stereotypical "fundamentalist" Christians.

After writing this blog post I will go see what I can learn about the author on the internet. I will let you know if it is anything interesting. I am expecting a left wing guy who went to liberal schools and embraced the whole deal. I am sure this book is an atheistic political statement masquerading as a fiction novel.

I find that to be annoying, but must admit that it created a desire within me to read on and see how far it would go. I enjoyed predicting, or trying to predict what would happen, and then seeing if I was right. I was correct in general. Probably about 80% of what I thought would happen actually was written into the story in one form or another. What I learned was that there is a pretty good book within the bias writing.

The American "culture war" has been waged in these pages, and the lefties won.
Some of the things I saw that bugged me:

The main character is Ruth, the health teacher who believes "pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power." Ruth never compromised her position. She wrangled with everyday issues much like every human being, but she always sided and acted in accordance with her beliefs. She lost her job, friends moved away, lost her own children to Jesus...and all the while she was true to the cause. She is the undaunting liberal warrior. Our hero!?

Her counterpart is Tim. He was a rock and roll band member and fan of the Grateful Dead. He is a recovered addict and alcoholic who, after hitting rock bottom, getting divorced and losing everything that ever meant anything to him, sought out something more in his life. He found Jesus and was saved. He is now a member of the Tabernacle. That is the evangelical church which Ruth has a problem with. Tim just so happens to be Ruth's daughters soccer coach. Uh ohhh!
     The problem with Tim's character? He is constantly wrestling with and at odds with his faith. He is fearful that his beliefs will cost him his job, his relationship with his daughter, his ability to coach the soccer team, his friends, his work relationships. His faith causes nothing but conflict in his life! That is not what real faith is like. That is what a person who has no faith thinks faith is like and wishes others to think also.
     Tim is also constantly wrestling with the past. He still loves his ex-wife. He misses the rock and roll lifestyle, hanging in bars and poker night. he even vandalizes Billy's truck by scratching the name "Jesus" into the paint after getting stoned and then crawls back to Ruth's house to "talk".
     This is what a Christian man does? This is how he thinks and acts? Sure, if you want the character to look like an imbecile who's faith is in something that is not real. If you want to portray him as weak and ungrounded so you can show how much of a loser he is compared to the wonderful Ruth.

Where Ruth succeeds, Tim always fails. So predictable.

There is also a Pastor Dennis. This is the founder and leader of The tabernacle. This is supposedly the new church that is growing rapidly and has massive influence at town board meetings and within the high school. This Pastor is seriously over the top. His way of living would not create a church that grows. It would alienate people. His church would not grow. He is far to involved in his own flock's lives to be anything like the "mentor" and spiritual guide that he is supposed to be. People typically would not willfully flock to follow a theocratic dictator who meddles in the minutia of their private lives.
     Who would follow a man like this? Stupid weak sheep, of course, just like all Christians are accused of being by the atheistic secular-centered people today.

Want more? How about two characters that are not major to the story, but have strong statements about what atheists think about Christians.
    Tim's second and current wife for one. She is a mousy and submissive woman who has no desires of her own. When Tim asks what she wants her only answers are to try and please him and fulfill his needs. She has no life outside of that. I found that to be a ridiculous portrayal of what Christians mean when they say the man is the spiritual leader and that the woman should submit to her husband. This character is written from a point of view that only mocks and belittles someones faith.
    The other guy who is not that big a deal to the story, but really mattered to me, is Jay. Jay met Pastor Dennis at a wedding. Jay was a young loud rude womanizing drunk who punched the Pastor in the eye in the men's room when Dennis tried to stuff Jesus down his throat. Then Jay had a spiritual experience and came to accept Jesus with Pastor Dennis. A few weeks passed and Dennis declares that the Pastor LIED to him about that experience. It was not Jesus at all. Jay decided the experience was just Jay being in touch with his own inner spirit. There is no God...it is just whatever makes you feel good or what fulfills your needs at the moment. So, the Pastor is a liar who tricks people into believing, Jay is his own savior, it is all just stupid.

What causes the controversy between Ruth and Tim? Tim says a prayer after a soccer game where he thanks God. From there we go into all the junk spouted in society today about separation of church and state. Blah blah blah. The coach thanked God that his own daughter was OK after a bad collision on the field and then for the last minute victory against a tough opponent to get into the championship game. Big deal! Unless of course you have a chip on your shoulder and feel it is your duty to strike at Christians at the mere mention of anything related to faith.

Something that was very interesting was an opinion pointed out during a refresher training course Ruth was forced to attend. When health teachers had the curriculum altered to include abstinence in sex education, well, Ruth didn't do it so well. She had to go to a training class to learn how to teach abstinence.
     There were four folks in that class. One was a lesbian. What I found to be interesting was an opinion on why abstinence teaching will not always work. See, if you are gay and are taught to not have a sexual relationship until marriage...but marriage for gays is illegal...well, I understand why they lesson would not make much sense. Again, it worked in another liberal subject of contention by bringing in the whole gay marriage thing. But, if I look at it strictly from the high school curriculum of abstinence teaching then it made sense to me that there is a problem.

At the end of the book Tim is standing in his underwear in Ruth's bedroom staring out the window as his Pastor is outside making a fool of himself and his wife is at home pining away for her man. Tim is afraid to even speak to the pastor...but, of course, Ruth has no fear. She is the strong modern woman taking a stand against the oppressive religious types that are just haters.

So, you would think with all the blatant liberal bias and incessant jabs at Christians I would have hated the book. I didn't. I think Tom Perrotta is a talented writer who told a good story in an excellent manner. I may not like what happened, but what happened was portrayed in an outstanding way. It is good writing.

So now that I finished writing this blog post, I will go see what I can learn about Mr. Perrotta himself. What are his political and religious beliefs? I'll let you know if I find anything credible about that, but I am pretty sure I already know what I will find.

PS...I was right.

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